Who says the only good value vacation is a shared cabin at the lake, or a week at the beach? By planning carefully, you can stretch your travel dollar so that it takes you to exotic international destinations full of delightful surprises.
Good dollar deals mean savings, of course, but they don't always mean inexpensive. Instead, these trips give you the satisfaction of knowing that your travel dollar was well-spent. Here are six journeys abroad that offer an exciting package for your money.
BAHAMAS BOUND Small Hope Bay Lodge gives you the Bahamas, barefoot and vibrant. An intimate, rustic retreat on the Out Island of Andros, Small Hope Bay attracts people seeking deep-sea wonders and on-shore informality. What sets it apart from the many other resorts in this Caribbean nation? Beyond its doors the third largest reef in the world stretches for 142 miles.
With the all-inclusive price, you not only receive three meals a day, and free rein of the bar, but three dives daily, as well as use of all the necessary diving equipment. Neophytes obtain practice, and never-done-its learn to scuba with the resort course. These azure waters offer the perfect place to explore the sea where schools of rainbow-hued parrot fish, yellowtail snapper and blue tang float by gardens of coral blooming in neon colors.
Back on land, it's hammocks, hot tubs and simplicity. Most guests just wear T-shirts and shorts. Dinner comes family-style for the capacity crowd of 40, who bunk in 20 cottages built from native pine and coral. Despite the private baths and ceiling fans, rustic best describes these rooms, and night life is what you make of it. But how could you miss with the moonlight and the magic of the watery deep?
In summer this good deal gets even better. While the Bahamas' temperature rises just a few degrees, the prices go down about 30 percent. A three-night, all-inclusive package costs $540 per person. Contact: Small Hope Bay Lodge, (800) 223-6961.
DOWN-UNDER WONDERS: MELBOURNE AND KANGAROO ISLAND It's never been cheaper to fly to Melbourne, Australia, a sophisticated city with urban charm and easy access to such country sites as wineries, gold-rush towns and wildlife sanctuaries. Now through October, Australia's off-season, the air fares drop to as low as $300 one-way from Los Angeles. A round-trip ticket must be purchased and restrictions apply. Hotel rates plummet as well. The bargains get better still since the American dollar buys about 17 percent more than the Australian dollar.
You'll never be bored in Melbourne, which rivals Sydney for attractions. The ultra-modern, underground Victorian Arts Centre hosts concerts and plays, and museums abound. The zoo features a first-rate butterfly house, and the Royal Botanical Gardens is a treat of fern gullies, broad lawns, towering trees, and ponds dotted with black swans.
The Yarro Valley, 1 1/4 hours away, offers the sparkling wine of Domaine Chandon and acres of animals. The Healesville Sanctuary lets you wander among lyrebirds, platypuses, koalas and wombats, as well as pet the kangaroos and wallabies that waddle by.
Sovereign Hill, a re-created gold-rush town in Ballarat, 70 miles west of Melbourne, offers hands-on history that has you riding stagecoaches, touring mines and panning for gold. Kangaroo Island, a short flight from Melbourne, gives you an intriguing landscape where Australia's wondrous wildlife roams free. Koalas curl in eucalyptus trees, emus saunter about, seals creep over the sands to your feet, and kangaroos thump to your side.
Information: Call the Australian Tourist Commission, (800) 333-0199. Airlines offering discounted rates include Quantas, Air New Zealand, Continental, Northwest and United. Many tour companies, and airlines, offer package deals. Expanding Horizons has a land package of seven nights' lodging at the tony Windsor Park Hotel, $524 per person. A one-night, two-day package of air fare and lodging on Kangaroo Island costs $325 per person. Call: Expanding Horizons, (800) 421-6416.
COSTA RICA Wild parakeets chatter noisily overhead. A toucan swoops by, a big-beaked flash of black and yellow. Swallows dart under bamboo bridges. In the background are mountainsides green with spreading ceiba trees. These sites are commonplace on raft trips just a few hours from Costa Rica's capital, San Jose. This city is a great place from which to explore Costa Rica's natural wonders, which include rain forests, volcanoes and miles of beaches.
Costa Rica is not only friendly, and easy to get to (about a 2 1/2 -hour flight from Miami), but it's inexpensive, especially in the summer, when the afternoons may bring a bit of rain. Plan to be inside, enjoying a late, leisurely lunch.
From San Jose, visit a butterfly farm, peer into the crater of an active volcano, and horseback ride along mountain slopes. Take overnight trips to Monteverde Cloud Forest, where orchids seem to float in the mists, and hike Manuel Antonio National Park, where monkeys and sloths hang from the trees.